Say it any way you want — the Dolphins (3-0) are undefeated, in first place in the AFC East, the only team in the AFC with a perfect record — and it still doesn’t accurately capture what the Dolphins have done so far this season.
The crowning achievement to this point has been Sunday’s 21-19 victory over Buffalo. But that incredible 42-38 comeback victory at Baltimore was pretty darn impressive. And coach Mike McDaniel starting his career by leading the Dolphins to a 20-7 victory over New England and coach Bill Belichick was cool, too.
Still, knocking off Buffalo — the team that had a seven-game winning streak on the Dolphins, was favored by most to win the division and favored by many to go to the Super Bowl — was special.
Passing game: A
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13 for 18, 186 yards, one touchdown, 123.8 passer rating) came through with some big plays, most notably the 11-yard pass he zipped to wide receiver River Cracraft and the 45-yard deep pass he dropped into Jaylen Waddle’s hands. And he showed toughness with the head/back injury. Waddle (four receptions, 102 yards) led the way statistically, but Tyreek Hill (two receptions, 33 yards), Durham Smythe (three receptions, 23 yards) and Cracraft (one reception, 11 yards, touchdown) played roles. Pass protection only allowed one sack despite rotating right tackles at one point. There was at least one dropped pass, but overall it was a strong, timely performance.
Running game: C
Chase Edmonds (six carries, 21 yards, including an 8-yard carry) had two touchdowns, which is the saving factor here. Raheem Mostert (eight carries, 11 yards, including a 9-yard carry) didn’t do much. The Dolphins only had 41 yards rushing on 17 carries, which is 2.4 yards per carry. Granted, the Dolphins only ran 43 plays. But you’d like to see more production, considering Buffalo was missing a couple of run-stuffing defensive tackles in Ed Oliver and Jordan Phillips. Still, the running game participated in a winning effort.
Defending the pass: B
Bills quarterback Josh Allen (42 of 63, 400 yards, two touchdowns) was pretty good. But Miami’s defense was even better among its four sacks, nine passes defended and 10 quarterback hits. Cornerback Xavien Howard kept Stefon Diggs (seven receptions, 74 yards) under control, and fellow cornerback Nik Needham played an exhausting 90 of 92 snaps (98%). Safety Jevon Holland (10 tackles, 1.5 sacks) was the only defender to play all 92 snaps. Melvin Ingram had 2.0 sacks. Allen did some damage, but he had 63 attempts, for goodness sake. The Dolphins’ defense was better than Allen.
Defending the run: B
Buffalo rushed for 115 yards on 23 carries, which is 5.0 yards per carry. The numbers don’t look great, but the run defense wasn’t bad. Running back Zack Moss (four carries, 46 yards) had a 43-yard run that boosted the statistics. But he was ineffective otherwise. Allen (eight carries, 47 yards, 5.9 ypc) did the heavy lifting for the Bills’ ground game. The Dolphins’ front seven, led by linebacker Jerome Baker (team-best 13 tackles), was active all day. Safety Brandon Jones (nine tackles) and linebacker Elandon Roberts (eight tackles) were also good.
Special teams: C-
Obviously the “butt punt” — punter Thomas Morstead punted from his own end zone and hit wide receiver Trent Sherfield’s butt before the ball bounced out of bounds for a safety — is the memorable occasion here, and it could have lost the game if not for a strong defensive stand. Otherwise, it was a good showing that included punts downed at the Bills’ 2-, 12- and 20-yard lines. The Dolphins didn’t attempt a field goal and their kickoff and punt coverage units were decent.
The Dolphins, for the third consecutive week, were prepared and excited to play. Those are good first steps when you plan to win. Coach Mike McDaniel and offensive coordinator Frank Smith continue showing offensive variety while defensive coordinator Josh Boyer is overseeing a unit that continually makes plays. The Dolphins have rarely been caught off guard, even by Buffalo’s 63 pass attempts. Gameplans are solid and in-game adjustments are good. No issues here.
Stock up: Tua Tagovailoa
The man just keeps making plays. Tagovailoa’s deep throws have been masterful, such as Sunday when he hit Waddle in stride on a crucial 45-yard pass. Tagovailoa also showed admirable guts by returning to the game in the third quarter after sustaining a back/head injury. You already knew he could throw the short and intermediate passes with accuracy, and you saw that with the touchdown pass to Cracraft. Tagovailoa is having an outstanding start to the season.
Stock down: Chris Perkins
Did I really pick this team to win eight games?! Am I the guy who loudly questioned whether Tagovailoa improved his ability to throw the deep pass?! Yikes. I’ll admit the obvious, I’m looking very, very bad on both fronts.